Yes, Things Can Get Worse

09.05.13

Life After Boehner

Sounds like Boehner is going to call it quits after this term. He’s bad. But things can get much worse.

In non-Syria news, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Jon Ward reported yesterday that some GOP Hill rats are now starting to say on background what most of us have been assuming for quite some time—that John Boehner won’t seek reelection in 2014 and thus will end his tenure as speaker.

If so, he will have lasted just four years, and, it must be said, a pretty crappy four years, when the House has passed almost no meaningful bills and when the most meaningful one it did pass, the sequester, is widely acknowledged to be a disaster and an admission of Congress’s inability to do its job. And remember, we still have, after the Syria vote, the looming government shutdown and the debt-limit fight coming this fall. A brief government shutdown and a credit default, while undesirable generally, would provide fitting capstones to a terrible tenure.

Now of course all this failure isn’t his fault. He’s got a lot of people in that caucus who weren’t elected to govern, but to burn down. His length of tenure reflects this problem. As speaker, you have to make some sort of attempt to govern. That’s the gig. But when half or more of your caucus is against governing, well, they’re going to get mad at you and consider you a sellout. As Grim and Ward point out, he won the speakership last time by just three votes.

It’s worth reflecting on this before he goes back to Cincinnati (back to Cincinnati? What am I talking about? He’s staying right here, I would imagine, and will earn a few million dollars a year as a post-lobbyist lobbyist, doing most of his work on the courses at Burning Tree and Congressional; I guess in a way he will have earned that, and a carton of smokes): the current House Republican caucus doesn’t want a speaker who will attempt to perform the basic job of speaker—shepherd through compromise spending bills in a semi-timely fashion, work with the Senate to pass a few other respectably significant bills, keep something resembling an orderly appearance. Boehner did none of these things, and probably couldn’t do any of them. Immigration is a great case in point, when he was forced by the yahoos to say he wasn’t taking up the Senate bill at all.

But the more important question is who replaces him. HuffPo:

The assumption that Boehner's departure is imminent has set off a round of jockeying for the positions that would open up. The current power structure includes an ad hoc leadership-in-waiting, consisting of five conservatives who serve as go-betweens for the leadership and the tea party. Getting the blessing of that group is usually the first step toward getting broader tea party buy-in. According to GOP sources, this group includes Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Tom Price (Ga.) and Steve Scalise (La.). All but Ryan have chaired the Republican Study Committee, the bloc of arch-conservatives in the House. Much of the speculation has focused on Hensarling, chairman of the Financial Services Committee, who is considered a viable candidate for either speaker or majority leader. Price, who lost a leadership race last round to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), is considered a viable challenger to current Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.).

A grim menu. These people make Boehner look like Nelson Rockefeller. Under any of them, the point of the House of Representatives will be to throw as many wrenches into as many gears of government as they can possibly get away with. You think things couldn’t get worse? Oh, trust me, they could get much worse. And it looks like they will.